It used to be that if your credit card got stolen, the physical card was stolen, either at a restaurant or store, or by having your entire wallet stolen. But nowadays, it’s much more common that your number gets stolen. This can happen by a breach while online shopping, but more and more commonly, numbers are being stolen through credit card skimmers. Here are some tips on how to avoid skimmers at gas pumps.
Card skimmers are devices that are attached to credit card readers that can copy the data from your credit card. You don’t even realize it’s happening – your payment goes through like it should. But suddenly, all sorts of unauthorized charges start appearing on your credit card account and you have no idea what happened.
Why are skimmers so common on gas pumps?
Credit card skimmers have to be installed on card readers. Most card readers at businesses you frequent are inside at the check out area. So unless it’s an inside job, it’s pretty tough to put a credit card skimmer on most types of card readers. However, gas pumps are outside. And a good scammer will be able to install a credit card skimmer while pretending to simply be using the gas pump to refuel their own vehicle.
Examine the card reader
You know what a traditional credit card reader looks like. Credit card readers often look like a small item attached to the end of the reader, so that your card has to slide through it before it reaches the actual reader on the pump. Does the card reader look normal to you? Glance at the other pumps in the station. Does it look the same as the other pumps? It would be unusual for someone to successfully put skimmers on every pump at a station, so if one or two look different from the others, that’s a sign there could be a skimmer attached.
Look for a security seal
Because people have started looking for credit card skimmers, some scammers have started using skimmers that are installed directly into the pump. These are harder to install, but it happens. Some gas stations have started inspecting their card readers and installing security seals. These seals are often broken when certain types of card skimmers are installed. Not every company uses these, but it’s always good to pay attention to these seals if they appear to be on some of the pumps in a gas station.
Tap to Pay
This weekend, while putting gas in my car, I went to a gas station I don’t normally frequent, and I was pleased to see that in addition to the normal card readers, the pumps now had tap to pay. These are becoming more and more common, and it’s a much more safe way to use your credit card. As far as I can tell, the scammers haven’t yet figured out how to skim numbers from tap to pay.
The simplest tip on how to avoid skimmers at gas pumps is to pay inside. Certainly not the easiest method, and definitely an added step, but if you are worried about your number being skimmed, paying inside is a very simple way to avoid it.
Use a single card for gas only
While it doesn’t reduce your risk of your credit card being skimmed, if you choose to use a specific credit card for gas and gas only, it can reduce the impact. You can setup this card to notify you every time a charge is made to the card, so you will quickly know if it gets used outside of your gas purchases (you can do this with any card, but if it’s the card you use for regular spending, all of those notifications might be so frequent that they become easy to ignore and miss). And you won’t have any automatic charges scheduled to that card, so if you have to cancel the card and have a new number issued, you won’t have to contact a bunch of different companies to change the number.
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Megan is a 40-something government employee in the Washington, DC area. She got interested in Personal Finance when she got out of college and realized that her paycheck wasn’t going to go as far as she had hoped. Since starting this blog, she has managed to buy a house and make a solid start on her retirement goals, and hopes to help others do the same. Here is her story:
In 2007, I was a gainfully employed 20-something with no debt but not a lot of knowledge about personal finance. It was a co-worker’s comment about Roth IRAs that sent me to the internet, searching for information. It was then that I realized that I really didn’t know a whole lot about personal finance and that my current financial situation was due a lot to inherent frugal tendencies, generous family members, a fear of debt, and good luck. While that was working for me, clearly I needed a better plan.
While I had no debt, I was also pretty much living paycheck to paycheck and not worrying about going over budget (I say this as if I had a real budget) because I had an emergency fund set aside to cover any overages.
Except that’s not what an emergency fund is for.
So I did a lot of research, read a lot of blogs, and decided that I needed a plan. I needed to budget. I needed to know what I was spending my money on. I needed to prepare for the future.
I decided to create a blog not only to make myself accountable to others but also to share the knowledge that I gained along the way. I’ve learned so much from my fellow bloggers, and I hope that my readers can find something useful in what I have to share as well.
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